William Merrell Vories exhibition in Omi-Hachiman

Former Hachiman YMCA, the first building designed by Vories.

Former Hachiman YMCA, the first building designed by Vories.

The William Merrell Vories exhibition is being held in Omi-Hachiman until Nov. 3, 2009. For 1,000 yen, you can enter a few of the Vories-designed buildings in Omi-Hachiman normally closed to the public.

It’s an on-your-own walking tour of Vories buildings starting at Hakuunkan, a Western-style (but not designed by Vories) building across the torii near Hachimanbori. Go inside Hakuunkan and pay 1,000 yen to receive a few tickets to enter the other buildings. You also receive a map of the walking tour. The 2nd floor of the Hakuunkan also has an exhibition on Vories. However, everything is in Japanese. Exhibition hours is 9 am to 4:30 pm (enter by 4 pm). Hakuunkan is an 8-min. bus ride from JR Omi-Hachiman Station’s north exit. Go to bus stop 6 and board the bus going to Chomeiji. You can get off at Shinmachi (新町) or Osugicho (大杉町).

The walking tour map is pretty easy to follow, and the route has arrows pointing the way to the next building. Everything is within walking distance, it should take only a few hours to see everything. The buildings you can enter are the old Hachiman Post Office, Omi Brotherhood Schools’ Hyde Memorial Building which was a former kindergarten run by Vories’ wife Makiko, the former residence of Vories and Makiko, and the former Hachiman YMCA. The former Vories residence’s living room is still full of books and pictures. The house also has a Japanese-style room attached.

The former Hachiman YMCA, now the Andrews Memorial building, was the first building Vories designed. You can also enter this building. There are panel exhibitions in all the buildings you can enter. Other buildings are not open to the public, so you just have to admire them from outside.

I enjoyed the tour and was finally able to enter these buildings. Unfortunately, nothing is in English (which is strange since Vories was from America) and photography inside the buildings is not allowed. This is puzzling because photography is allowed inside all the other Vories buildings in Shiga open to the public. Official Web site: http://vories.jp/

See more Vories in Omi-Hachiman photos here.

Former Toyosato Elementary School now renovated.

On the same day, I also went to Toyosato to visit the old Toyosato Elementary School which reopened in May 2009 after major renovations. The old  building now looks very impressive with a new coat of white paint. They spent ¥650 million to make the building earthquake resistant as well. The school was built in the 1930s and designed by Vories. If you’re interested in architecture, this is another building I highly recommend visiting.

The old school consists of three buildings. The main building, auditorium, and old library, all open to the public. The main building now has a public library occupying a few former classrooms, offices of the local board of education, a children’s playroom, and an exhibition room. The second floor has two classrooms renovated to look like as they were in the old days. The auditorium is also impressive, as well as the old library which is now used as a local tourist information office and event space. The school is within walking distance from Toyosato Station on the Omi Railway Line. Free admission.

Rabbit and turtle sculpture (Aesops fable) on stairway railing inside old Toyosato Elementary School.

Rabbit and turtle sculpture (Aesop’s fable) on stairway railing inside old Toyosato Elementary School.

See more photos of Toyosato Elementary School here.

Old Toyosato Elementary School reborn

Renovation of the old Toyosato Elementary School (豊郷小学校), housed in a building designed by William Merrell Vories in 1937, has been completed and a ceremony was held on May 30, 2009 to mark its completion.

At a total cost of 650 million yen, the old building was repainted, reinforced against earthquakes, installed with an elevator, and preserved as much as possible.

The three-story building’s first floor has a public library and small play area for infants. The second floor with classrooms is preserved as it was originally. The old library next to the main building will be used a gallery.

During 1999-2002, Toyosato gained national attention when this old elementary school building was going to be torn down by the mayor in opposition to activists who wanted to preserve the building.

See my photos of the renovated school. | Google Map

Shiga History 2007

Chronology of Shiga Prefecture’s news bits for January-December 2007. Compiled by Philbert Ono.

Hikone Castle 400th Anniversary

Hikone Castle 400th Anniversary

March 21, 2007: Hikone Castle celebrates its 400th anniversary with an 8-month-long festival lasting until Nov. 25, 2007. Three castle structures (Umaya horse stable, Tenbin Yagura turret, and Nishinomaru Sanju-yagura turret), normally closed to the public, are open to the public during the festival period. Official mascot Hiko-nyan (a helmeted cat) soon becomes nationally popular.

May 5, 2007: At the Expoland amusement park in Suita, Osaka, the Fujin Raijin II roller coaster derails, killing Yoshino Kogawara, 19, from Higashiomi, Shiga Prefecture. Nineteen others are injured.

June 16, 2007: The English version of Shiga’s most famous song, Biwako Shuko no Uta, called Lake Biwa Rowing Song, is issued on CD sold by the Biwako Shuko no Uta Shiryokan museum in Imazu.
Sept. 6, 2007: Shiga’s very first pro sports team, the Shiga LakeStars, was approved to join the bj League, Japan’s fledging pro basketball league. The LakeStars will start playing from the fall 2008-2009 season.

Oct. 11, 2007: The Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the Japanese government against an Osaka High Court ruling which deemed illegal the Eigenji No. 2 Dam construction project in Higashi-Omi, Shiga Prefecture. Local residents of Eigenji had filed a lawsuit claiming that the Eigenji No. 2 Dam project was unnecessary and seriously flawed. The residents’ claims were supported by the Osaka High Court. The government then appealed to the Supreme Court unsuccessfully. The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry now must revise its plans from scratch.

Oct. 28, 2007: During a meeting 新駅設置促進協議会 in Otsu between Governor Kada Yukiko and the mayors and local assembly members of Ritto and neighboring cities, the Governor announces that the project to build a new shinkansen train station in Ritto is officially cancelled. The governor reiterated that her election in 2006 reflected the will of the people who were against the shinkansen station which would have cost Shiga and Ritto 24,000,000,000 yen. The mayor of Ritto, who had pushed hard for this new station, expresses great regret. The cancellation makes national headlines.

Nov. 10-11, 2007: The 27th Zenkoku Yutaka na Umizukuri Taikai (National Convention to Make Bountiful Oceans) 第27回全国豊かな海づくり大会 is held in Otsu with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko in attendance on the 11th for the formal ceremony held at Biwako Hall. The Emperor gives a speech saying that “It hurts my heart that the blue gill fish I brought to Japan from America for human consumption is now damaging the ecosystem of Lake Biwa.” In 1960 as Crown Prince on a trip to the U.S., the Emperor brought back the blue gill fish given to him in Chicago, Illinois and intended it to be raised in Japan for human consumption. The blue gill has multiplied rapidly in Lake Biwa from the 1990s and eats the baby fish of native lake fish. After the ceremony, the Emperor and Empress release baby fish of native lake fish into the lake. The Hama-Otsu area also serves as a venue for the public to become more aware of fisheries in Lake Biwa.

Nov. 10-13, 2007: Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visit Shiga for the first time in 13 years. On the first day, they visit a nursing home called Care Town Karasaki. Some 20 patients there sang “Biwako Shuko no Uta” (Lake Biwa Rowing Song) for the Imperial couple and the Emperor demanded an encore for them to sing it again. On the second day the 11th, they attended the Zenkoku Yutaka na Umizukuri Taikai and afterward took a boat ride to Kusatsu to visit the Lake Biwa Museum. On the 12th, they visited Shigaraki Ceramic Park and the ruins of Shigaraki-no-Miya which was a detached palace of Emperor Shomu. On the 13th, they visited Enryakuji temple on Mt. Hiei and returned to Tokyo via shinkansen train from Kyoto Station.

Nov. 25, 2007: The 400th anniversary festival for Hikone Castle ends with a total attendance of 764,484 during the period of March 21 to Nov. 25. This far exceeded the break-even attendance of 550,000. They spent an estimated 17 billion yen or an average of 5,200 yen per person who came on a day trip and 23,300 yen per person who lodged in Hikone. Ten percent of the amount were spent on Hiko-nyan merchandise.

Dec. 27, 2007: A second meeting between the mayors of the six northern towns of Torahime-cho, Kohoku-cho, Takatsuki-cho, Kinomoto-cho, Yogo-cho, and Nishi-Azai-cho and the mayor of Nagahama meet at Takatsuki Town Hall to discuss the proposal to merge the six towns and Nagahama. The neighboring city of Maibara is also cited as a candidate to join the municipal merger. The mayors formally agreed to clearly call their meetings for the purpose of merging, instead of making it vague (広域でのまちづくり協議) as they did at their first meeting in the summer in Nagahama. The next day, they went to the Prefectural capital to request their support.

Dec. 27, 2007: At the Otsu District Court, a court settlement was reached between a citizen’s group and the town of Toyosato over the preservation of Toyosato Elementary School’s old school building designed by William Vories in 1937 and the funding of the construction of the new school building. The citizen’s group sought to have former town mayor Ono Wasaburo return the over 1.8 billion yen spent to build the new school building since the money was appropriated without obtaining the approval of the town assembly. Both sides agreed to the court’s proposal that the former mayor express his “reflection” concerning his deeds, and the construction company, which built the new school building, to donate about 20 million yen to the town to help preserve the old school building. The old school is slated to become a cultural facility. This concludes the five-year court battle.

Click here for Shiga History 2008

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